When a romantic relationship is in trouble, the tendency is to focus on what went wrong rather than what went right. People tend to dwell on a person’s irritating habits rather than the adorable traits. Up to a certain point, this is also what happens in couples therapy. After all, the only reason people in a relationship would go to a counselor because there is a serious problem. Perfectly happy and suited couples with minor disagreements would obviously have no need for counseling as they would be able to handle the situation themselves. Just like in medical treatment where the doctor focuses on the part of the body that is ailing, the counselor would focus primarily on the source of the relationship conflict in couples therapy.
However, while triage also applies in couples therapy, there is a stage when the crisis has passed when the counselor will want to target those aspects in the relationship that brought them together in the first place. Promoting strengths in the relationship effectively encourages resilience, which allows the couple to function better. The competent counselor would encourage the couple to list the other person’s positive attributes and to dwell on it. This can gradually alter each partner’s perception about the relationship from a more constructive angle, and breeds patience and tolerance for each pother’s shortcomings. Highlighting the strengths of a partner encourages appreciation, which in the long run can help minimize the tendency to find fault and assign blame when things go wrong.
All couples have problems; the task of the counselor in couples therapy is to show them that most problems can be fixed with the right tools and the right attitude. This is a far more difficult task than it appears. For couples having serious relationship problems, it may be the better part of valor to seek professional help before the relationship goes beyond salvage.